Inter-generational longitudinal study of social class and depression: a test of social causation and social selection models

Br J Psychiatry Suppl. 2001 Apr;40:s84-90. doi: 10.1192/bjp.178.40.s84.


Background: Generations of epidemiologists have documented an association between low socio-economic status (SES) and depression (variously defined), but debate continues as to which is the causative factor.

Aims: To test the extent to which social causation (low SES causing depression) and social selection (depression causing low SES) processes are in evidence in an inter-generational longitudinal study.

Method: Participants (n = 756) were interviewed up to four times over 17 years using the Schedule for Affective Disorders and Schizophrenia (SADS).

Results: Low parental education was associated with increased risk for offspring depression, even after controlling for parental depression, offspring gender and offspring age. Neither parental nor offspring depression predicted later levels of offspring occupation, education or income.

Conclusion: There is evidence for an effect of parental SES on offspring depression (social causation) but not for an effect of either parental or offspring depression on offspring SES (social selection).

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cohort Studies
  • Depressive Disorder / etiology*
  • Educational Status
  • Family
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Middle Aged
  • Models, Theoretical
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Social Class*
  • Social Mobility